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The Killers (The Criterion Collection)

4.6 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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(Feb 18, 2003)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Two hit men have an order to kill a seemingly mild-mannered schoolteacher and they find out the victim was involved in an armored car heist years back as well as a love triangle involving the girlfriend of a major mob figure.


The Killers (1946)
This 1946 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's short story adds well over an hour of new material to the original tale. The reason is, while director Robert Siodmak, star Burt Lancaster, and an outstanding supporting cast are faithful to Hemingway's work, his story only takes up about 15 minutes of screen time. Burt Lancaster plays the doomed man sought by hired guns in a small town. Hemingway's bruisingly concise dialogue makes an early sequence set in a diner quite unnerving, but after the killers dispense with their prey, Siodmak turns to an insurance investigator (Edmond O'Brien) who looks into the reasons behind the murder. An exemplary film noir (complete with a fickle femme fatale played by Ava Gardner), The Killers is all mood and fatalism.

The Killers (1964)
The 1964 remake (of sorts) by Don Siegel builds another whole world around Hemingway's narrow, if intense, premise. The two assassins of Siegel's film (Clu Gulager, Lee Marvin) go in search of their intended victim--a teacher (John Cassavetes) at a school for the blind--and find that he not only recognizes his fate when they show up, but seems entirely resigned to it. Curiosity leads the killers to seek out the party who hired them and discover why Cassavetes's character didn't run or fight. Soon the facts tumble into place--the dead man had once been a top-drawer racer who fell for a glamorous woman (Angie Dickinson), the latter gradually pulling him into the orbit of a criminal villain (a convincingly evil Ronald Reagan)--and the film becomes increasingly dark and dangerous. Originally shot for television but rejected for its violence, Siegel's film is a blistering experience of swimming against the currents of fate for one's survival--and losing. --Tom Keogh

Special Features

  • Features for The Killers (1946 Version):
  • New digital transfer
  • Andriie Tarkovsky's 1956 student film version of The Killers
  • Video interview with writer Stuart M. Kaminsky
  • Screen Director's Playhouse 1949 radio adaptation, starring Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters
  • Actor Stacy Keach reads Hemingway's short story
  • Production and publicity stills
  • Essay by Jonathan Lethem
  • Paul Schrader's seminal 1972 essay "notes on film noir"
  • Music and effects track
  • Features for The Killers (1964 Version):
  • Reflections by star Clu Gulager
  • Excerpts from Don Siegel's autobiography
  • Production correspondence including memos, broadcast standard reports, and casting suggestions
  • Essay by Geoffrey O'Brien

Product Details

  • Actors: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien
  • Directors: Robert Siodmak
  • Writers: Anthony Veiller, Ernest Hemingway, John Huston, Richard Brooks
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Special Edition
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 18, 2003
  • Run Time: 198 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00007ELDG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,794 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Killers (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The first thing I would like to say is that "The Killers," is a superb production from the people at Criterion. Long renowned for the excellence of their titles, they really have outdone themselves this time `round. Not only do we have the two feature length versions of Hemmingway's story, from 1946 and 1964 respectively, but we have a wonderfully atmospheric audio reading of the original by Stacy Keach, a 1949 radio adaptation, AND Andriie Tarkovsky's 1956 student film version; "The Killers" x 5!!! Of the rest of the extensive "extras," the jewel in the crown is an interview with Clu Gulager, filmed in 2002, in which he tells some great stories about the 1964 production, and Lee Marvin in particular!
As much as I'm a huge fan of Film Noir, and Burt Lancaster, I have to admit I'd never even heard of the original 1946 version... shame on me! No, I bought this for the masterful Don Siegel version, staring Marvin, Gulager, Angie Dickenson, John Cassavetes, and in his only "bad guy" role, the future President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan! Indeed, it was one of the first films I looked for on DVD when I got my shiny-disc machine, and this is somewhat surprising, as I'd only ever seen the film once, sometime back in the 70's, on British TV!
This film, especially its electrifying final scenes, featuring an incredible performance by Marvin, seared itself into my memory for the better part of 30 years, and watching it again after all this time has NOT been a disappointment! The character of hit man "Charlie Strom" was, for me, the defining image of Lee Marvin. Tough - damn, forget "tough," we're talking hard-as-nails here! - menacing, cold, logical, world weary, and brutal, when the situation warrants it.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The Killers from 1946, Burt Lancaster's debut movie, is fantastic. It is one of the finest in the noir genre. Ava Gardner is a truly devilish femme fetale. The plot is full of twists and turns. The film begins with the ending so to speak, like Sunset Boulevard. The mise-en-scene is stylish and dark. I highly recommend this film for fans of film noir.
The DVD is an excellent print. It is sharp and the soundtrack is well restored.
The "remake" for TV (1964) starring Lee Marvin and co-starring Ronald Reagan (as a heavy no less) is included. It bears little resemblence to the original. The film focuses on the killers this time, rather than an insurance detective. The killers are a preview of the kind of characters we would see thirty years later in Pulp Fiction.
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Despite the commonality of the source material, one would not expect these movies to be joined at the hip like Siamese twins. The 1946 Siodmak is definitive noir: black and white, contrasty, artfully lit, with William Conrad and Charles McGraw in the title roles, played almost as extras -- shadowy figures spouting Hemingway dialogue in an Eisneresque diner in a mythical New Jersey. The 1964 Siegel version, brightly-lit in color, casts the killers as the central characters, played not-quite-for-laughs in over-the-top characterizations by a prime-of-life Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, (a very funny actor, who has also recorded a sensitive commentary) the philosopher hit-man and the health-food nut -- precursors perhaps of the Travolta and Jackson characterizations of Pulp Fiction. There's an excellent and knowledgeable reading of the Hemingway story by Stacy Keach, a poorly read excerpt from Don Siegel's autobiography, an interview with Siegel's biographer, a radio play with Lancaster and Shelley Winters (!) and for completists of Tarkovsky, a risible but competent student film. All in all a grab-bag that even includes an uncredited appearance of Charles "Ming the Merciless" Middleton as the farmer in the 1947 version. Marvin is hot, Gulager is a hoot, Lancaster a hunk and Ava a beauty. Then there's an Edmund O'Brien performance that's as subtle as the one he would give in The Wild Bunch. And for the political, John Cassavetes decks Ronald Reagan, who gives a cold, professional performance, and gets to slap Angie Dickinson. A great package, the sum worth more than the parts.
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Format: DVD
The Criterion Collection has moved beyond its original efforts toward film preservation, into actual education. Some of their most recent products feel almost like a portable film school, and this 2-DVD set of _The Killers_ is one of the company's best efforts to date.

This package features two very different, largely unrelated B-movies based on the same Ernest Hemingway short story. The lushly romantic 1946 version, directed by Robert Siodmak, is better known, if only for the iconic performances of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. But the 1964 Don Siegel film -- shot for NBC television but rejected for its violence -- has plenty of strong points, including what may be Lee Marvin's best performance (although I think his work in Samuel Fuller's _Big Red One_ is marginally better). In his last screen appearance, Ronald Reagan plays a heartless, calculating villain to bone-chilling perfection.

Extras include interviews, essays, and audio clips analyzing both films, though neither film features a separate audio commentary. There are also extra goodies for devoted cineastes and literature buffs. Criterion gives us Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky's student film of _The Killers_ (which features some fascinating, subtly pro-American cultural references). Stacy Keach reads the story aloud on Disc 1; excerpts from Don Siegel's autobiography are featured on Disc 2.

If that's not enough, the package also features Paul Schrader's masterful 1972 essay "Notes on Film Noir." With such a treasure trove of extras, this package could be used as a guide to mid-century American B-movies -- well worth owning for cinema buffs.
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